By Fiona Hamor, above, an employment lawyer at Pannone Corporate
Menopause in the workplace has quite rightly risen up the agenda in recent months. Driven in large part by high-profile advocates, it was given real impetus earlier this year by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WEC) inquiry into the extent of discrimination being faced by women in the workplace and how policy and workplace practices can better support those experiencing the menopause.
After many months of scrutinising the evidence and listening to a broad range of voices from employees to businesses to organisations campaigning for change, the WEC’s report into menopause and the workplace highlighted a series of recommendations aimed at creating a working environment that promotes equality, understanding and transparency. Recommendations included:
- A call for the menopause to be made a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010, which currently provides protection from discrimination because of characteristics such as age, sex, disability, race and religion. However, such a move is thought to be highly unlikely.
- A much clearer set of obligations for organisations and businesses which will better support women.
- Appointing a ‘menopause ambassador’ tasked with producing model workplace policies, which would include how to request reasonable adjustments and guidance on flexible working and sick leave.
- A menopause service in every clinical commissioning group.
- A Government-led public health campaign concerning menopause symptoms to raise general awareness, and a menopause leave policy pilot scheme in the public sector.
The 54-page report is far-reaching and in-depth but, in a nutshell, it places the onus on businesses to ensure they have the most appropriate processes and procedures in place to support those experiencing the menopause. Why is this so important? According to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), three in five menopausal women, usually between the age of 45 and 55, were negatively affected at work and almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms. That’s a significant amount of talent being lost from the labour market – experienced people at the peak of their career, and a wave of losses that will ultimately impact on the productivity of businesses at a time of increasing economic uncertainty.
The reasons behind these figures are multifaceted, but a key contributor is that many women going through the menopause have been unable to get the support at work that they need and employers have not been well enough informed or equipped to manage and adapt to support staff dealing with menopause symptoms.
So what can businesses do to plug the drain on talent and ensure they’re positioned in the best possible way to manage menopause in the workplace?
- Whilst a policy is an important starting point and a key document to have, it is important to go beyond that if you want to ensure that staff feel comfortable in discussing menopause related issues and that your managers have the confidence to respond appropriately and sensitively to any issues raised. This is all about breaking the taboo surrounding the menopause at work and creating an inclusive working environment.
- Create material to support managers and provide information about ways they can consider assisting employees who are managing symptoms, including FAQs, suggested adjustments to offer, and tips on how to discuss the issue with colleagues looking for support.
- It is essential that training is developed on how to put the principles of a menopause policy into practice, to embed this into organisational culture and habits, as well as regular reviews to ensure this is working effectively.
- Keep abreast of the latest industry developments and guidance, whether that’s Government-led publications, or support from organisations such as the CIPD, which has a dedicated online knowledge hub providing resources, case law and discussions on the menopause.
- Review your policies and procedures regularly (ideally every 12 months) to check how things are progressing and to address any queries or issues employees may have about the policy or its roll out.
Menopause in the workplace is by no means a new issue, but with the increased attention it is rightly being given, the need to address any concerns and shortcomings in the workplace has never been stronger.